African American Studies
Evelyn Melrose was born in 1926 and at the age of 3 her family moved from New Haven, CT, to Washington Avenue and Claremont Parkway in the Bronx. Her father accepted a job for the US Government Post Office on Tremont Avenue and was able to live in the apartment on Washington Avenue because he agreed to be the Super and care for the building. This was how black families were able to get apartments in all white buildings at the time, only if they were the Supers of the building. His position with the government allowed him to still have a decent income during the depression and as a result her mother cooked food for the neighbors who could no longer afford much due to the stock market crash.
Ethel Teasdale was born in the early 1920’s in the south and her family moved to the Bronx when she was around the age of 2 in 1921-22. The first lived at 981 Prospect Avenue and 164th Street. Similar to Evelyn’s family, Ethel’s family lived in an all white apartment building and her father was the Super of that building. Her father was in the Merchant Marines and her mother worked in a beading factory and then later as a domestic, like so many other women during this time.
Both women recall their experiences growing up and attending school in the Bronx as well as how areas like Webster Avenue and what is now Co-op City were once farmland with horse and buggy and chickens. The two girls met while in separate high schools and Ethel began attending Thessalonia Baptist Church with Evelyn and her family. At the time, Thessalonia was located on Eagle Avenue and 153rd, but is now located where the Sinai Temple was. Evelyn’s family has been a member of Thessalonia as long as she can remember and Ethel and her family have been members since she attended with Evelyn. Both women also remember their neighborhoods being very safe growing up with a strong sense of community. People usually did not even close their doors or knock when entering others. Both were very structured as girls and took piano lessons, while Evelyn also took singing lessons.
After she was married, Evelyn and her husband and son Arnold moved to the new Patterson Homes, which were referred to as the projects at the time. They were among the first tenants to move into the building. Both she and Arnold recall this as being a safe neighborhood as well, though Arnold recalls when he was in junior high and things began to change. He discussed the emergence of gangs and the different areas they came from or protected. There were such gangs as the Puerto Rican Suicides who resided on the other side of Willis Avenue, the Young Gents from the Patterson Houses, Italians, and gangs from other housing projects. He also noticed more drop-outs and drug addicts occurring in the area before his family moved to the new Claremont Houses. Evelyn says they moved right around the time when the neighborhoods began to decline.
Melrose, Arnold and Evelyn-- Ethel Teasdale. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.